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Finishing Touch

Wide-format digital printing systems for graphics applications have increased in speed, quality and versatility. Flatbed printers have been one of the fastest growing segments of the wide-format printing market due to their ability to print directly to rigid substrates, eliminating the need to mount roll-based prints onto boards. This direct-print approach has streamlined printing throughput for many shops, but the bottleneck is still in the finishing stage.

The majority of digital graphics prints require trimming or contour-cutting once printing is completed. Manual cutting takes time and inevitably generates errors resulting in costly reprints, material waste and missed deadlines. Trimming thick media and manually cutting contour prints are particularly vulnerable to this low-productivity/high-labor-cost risk. Unusual shapes often result in excess media waste. Pre-cut media can be a time-saver on the finishing end but is expensive and difficult to manage. Outsourcing the finishing is an option, but that directly affects the bottom line and removes an element of control over the job. So how do you keep your production moving efficiently and cost-effectively from prepress to finishing? Should you consider adding an automated digital cutting system to your line-up?

Should you Invest in a Digital Cutting System Now?

In a different economic climate, the immediate answer may be ‘yes’ because of the obvious benefits to the graphics provider of reduced labor and faster turnaround compared to hand cutting or routing. But in this economy, you may be wondering if the stake is worth it. Surprisingly, the answer for most shops is still ‘yes.’

Strictly from a financing position, digital cutting systems are a capital investment and you will most likely need to lease the equipment. And that thought may be unpleasant. However, because of their durability—most will last 10 to 15 years—financing companies may find them an attractive investment.

From a planning perspective, with one cutting system, you can finish media from a wide range of flatbed and roll-based printers. Just be sure to select the widest cutter you think you’ll need in the long term, as tables cannot be expanded afterwards.

Reduce Costs

Also consider cost—specifically, reduced labor and media costs. Digital cutting systems can significantly reduce labor costs compared to manual cutting because only one operator is required to run a highly productive automated cutter. Materials costs can be reduced by eliminating job re-runs due to human error.

Another cost-saving benefit is reduced waste through improved nesting (See Figure 1). Some digital cutting systems on the market today include the ability to quickly and easily nest images based on their actual shape or nest multiple jobs on the same media. This trims media consumption and printing times and virtually eliminates the need for pre-cut media.

Some jobs call for pre-cutting custom shapes before printing, particularly for standees or graphics with full bleeds. With an in-house system, you can cut only as many as needed, reducing inventory of boards or storage space for pre-cut pieces.

Configure Your Cutter to Meet Today’s—and Tomorrow’s—Needs

Digital cutters come in a variety of sizes. As mentioned earlier, carefully select your cutter’s size as they cannot be upgraded to a wider format.

Some cutting systems can be configured to handle up to three tools at the same time to suit the needs of any job. For simple jobs, cut speeds can be maximized by removing nonessential tools—and excess weight—from the carriage. For complex jobs, e.g. those requiring through-cutting and kiss-cutting, the ability to mount up to three tools saves time by eliminating the need to stop the cutting process in order to manually mount another tool. A typical configuration includes cutting, kiss-cutting and routing tools. More specialized tools are available for textiles, structural design, creasing, etc. (See Figure 2).

Add New Business

A digital cutting system can help you take on entirely new jobs that would not previously have been possible or cost effective. You can expand your business by accepting premium-priced contour-cutting jobs and production kiss-cutting jobs for creating mass-produced decals. With the routing capability, you can also finish jobs on materials such as DIBOND or acrylic that you wouldn’t have considered cutting by hand. Structural projects, such as self-standing displays or packaging prototypes, are other possible applications for opening up new markets. (See Figure 3).

The cutter can also be considered a manufacturing tool. The graphics are a value-add to the manufacturing process. You can make temporary furniture such as tables, chairs and desks for events and exhibits (See Figure 4).

Another example is recognition awards using acrylic and DIBOND materials. The pieces in figure 4 were printed on an Océ Arizona 350 GT flatbed UV printer, cut to shape and routed on the Océ ProCut digital cutting system, then assembled with stand-offs to create a three-dimensional plaque. Each one was unique for each recipient (See Figure 5). This would have been a costly, time consuming job if done by hand. Now a graphics shop can enter new markets that would have not been practical before.

You can also capture new revenue by providing a cutting/router service to other companies. Look for small local sign shops that can’t justify a cutter or unrelated businesses such as small manufacturers, fabricators, packaging manufacturers, architectural and interior designers, etc.

Consistent, High Quality Finishing

Every piece is cut identically, regardless of who is operating the equipment. This repeatability and accuracy is important when constructing dimensional items such as exhibits, POP stands, etc., that must properly fit together. With a digital cutting system, you can confidently offer your clients consistent, high quality finished graphics and reduced turnaround times. (See Figure 6)